Letter from the Editor | October 2023

For a few years now, the Indian Air Force has been caught between projection and reality. On the one hand, its combat numbers are depleting, due to lower rates of induction and higher rates of de-induction. On the other hand, it is being wooed by the world, with the US in the lead, as a partner of choice for joint exercises.

Consequently, 2023 has been a busy year. The IAF has been exercising with friendly air forces, all over Europe and West Asia—from the UK, France and Greece to Egypt and the UAE. Interestingly, the US figured in many of these multilateral exercises. Inspired, the IAF is also planning to host its own multilateral exercise, called Tarang Shakti, to be held sometimes in 2024, with six participating nations, US included, and several others attending it as observers.

Since the IAF neither envisages nor has the capacity to participate in international military operations, other than the US Peacekeeping, where in any case the above-mentioned nations have minimal presence, it is interesting that such flying hours and resources are being spend on these training activities. Wouldn’t it make more sense to exercise with the Indian Army and the Indian Navy instead? Especially, in view of the probable theatre commands currently in the works?

This issue becomes even more critical given the reality of IAF’s assets. While progressively depleting combat platforms attract most attention, equally important and in short supply are other platforms and weapons, such as unmanned aircraft (both armed and unarmed), trainers, helicopters, ISR aircraft, refuellers, smart missiles etc. What’s more, the networking project, AfNet, remains both limited and insecure. The same is true of the electronic and cyber capabilities, both of which are regarded as force multipliers by the IAF, whereas India’s biggest military threat, China, has elevated these to the level of war domains, requiring a whole of nation approach instead of service-specific capabilities.

This Indian Air Force special issue attempts to encapsulate the enormity of the challenge before the service and what it should be prioritizing in addressing those challenges.

We also have a thought-provoking commentary on the culmination of India’s presidency of the G-20, which contrary to the projection, starkly showcased a world getting increasingly fragmented, geopolitically, economically and technologically. This unprecedented fragmentation would necessitate balancing nations to take clearer sides. While this would be very challenging for New Delhi, it would also open up an opportunity for India to play successfully to its core strengths—geography, historic goodwill and burgeoning market.

In addition to these are the regular sections on industry, services and books. Read on. Happy IAF Day!


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